What next for women’s football?

In a change from our scheduled programmes here’s football writer, Newcastle United fan and editor-in-chief of the Durham University student newspaper John Burn-Murdoch on the latest developments in the women’s game. You can read more from John on twitter or over at the splendid Trequartista blog.

With the recent start of the inaugural FA Women’s Super League – now officially titled the FA WSL – the future of women’s football in the UK is at a crucial juncture. If all goes to plan, the WSL will mark the arrival of the women’s game as a significant part of the British footballing landscape both in terms of participation and viewing. That said, a look at the club formerly known as Fulham LFC, who folded at the end of last season, provides a cautionary tale. Made professional in 2000, an initial rush of success followed, but insufficient revenues necessitated a downgrading to semi-professional status two years later, and since then further financial difficulties have lead to dissolution on two occasions.

Over the past six months I have been following Durham University’s women’s team, who have enjoyed a successful campaign, winning promotion to the top tier of the student game as well as lifting the Conference Cup, the second tier’s knockout competition. Last month I sat down with three of their biggest stars to speak about the future of the women’s game here and across the globe.

One of the key topics which arose was the role that student football is playing in the game’s ascendency. Durham are a prime example of a university who are striving to achieve sporting excellence in the short-to-medium term, and the women’s football team epitomises this drive. Their squad this year includes three American postgraduate students as well as a member of Lincoln Ladies’ academy, and a number of overseas players have already been lined up to come to Durham next year. The attention given to the sport at this level has given many of the girls their first taste of competitive football and the majority of the Durham squad intend to stay in the game after graduation.

Furthermore, the ever-growing influx of foreign students, while considered detrimental to the development of British girls by some, has the potential to put the WSL on the map as far as the global game is concerned. Robin Chidester, arguably Durham’s star player, came to the Northeast from America’s Virginia Tech University to study for a Master’s, and has set her sights on signing for a top English side in the next twelve months. Having been watched by scouts representing the English national team earlier this year it is unlikely that she will be a free agent for long.

If British universities maintain this recruitment policy, and the WSL enjoys a successful opening season, there is a growing sense of optimism that the world’s top young footballers will flock to these shores in increasing numbers and that the WSL can establish itself as one of the strongest women’s leagues in the world over the coming years. For now, America’s Women’s Professional Soccer league is the place to be, but with its financial model showing cracks, its immediate future is far from secure and the FA will hope that their more sustainable, bottom-up approach will usher in a new era for the women’s game.

The WSL got underway on April 13 when Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0 in front of 3,000 fans in a match broadcast live on ESPN.

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